Growing up in the ‘90s, I didn’t have a lot of access to the old EC horror comics. I did, however, manage to acquire one issue of Tales from the Crypt (a reprint, I believe). I treasured that thing above all the other comics in my collection and I must have read it back and forth a thousand times. You see, Tales from the Crypt wasn’t like Batman or X-Men, it was one of those more-or-less “forbidden” magazines that a kid my age wasn’t supposed to have. And so I hid it from my mom like it was a Playboy.
That anecdote aside, Tales from the Crypt played a huge part of my childhood. Being one of the lucky few to have HBO back in the day, I made sure never to miss an episode of the television series. Sometime later, I stumbled across the original Amicus Tales from the Crypt film and discovered it to be just as entertaining as any episode of the TV show.
Tales from the Crypt (Final Cut Entertainment)
Most anthology horror films feature a wrap-around story which ties all the segments together, and this one is no different. Five strangers become lost in a labyrinthine crypt and eventually meet up with a creepy hooded figure known only as the Crypt Keeper (Sir Ralph Richardson). The Crypt Keeper then entices each lost soul to share their own tragic and gruesome horror story with one another…
In “All Through the House”, a greedy housewife (Joan Collins) murders her elderly (and heavily insured) husband on Christmas Eve. Her best laid plans begin to hit a snag, though, as an escaped axe-wielding maniac dressed in a Santa Claus costume shows up on her doorstep. She struggles to keep the psychopath out, but her wide-eyed daughter would like to invite Santa in.
Of all the stories adapted for this movie, “All Through the House” is likely the one which viewers remember best, primarily for having also been adapted as the pilot episode of the HBO series. To be honest, I actually think that the TV version was superior, as the killer Santa looked creepier and the story is given more time to build tension. This adaptation isn’t bad by any means, there’s just a better version available.
In “Reflection of Death”, a man runs away from his family with a younger woman. Shortly after reaching the highway, the pair experience a terrible car accident. The man awakens to find that much time has passed and everyone he meets is terribly frightened of him. Eventually, he finds out why.
This felt like the shortest installment of the film, but a good one regardless. I’ve actually read the original story this was based on (thanks to those EC Archive hardcover collections) and found this to be a thoroughly accurate adaptation. I’m sure you can see the twist ending coming a mile away, especially if you’ve read “The Outsider” by H.P. Lovecraft (which it was mostly ripped off from), but that doesn’t make the story any less memorable.
In “Poetic Justice”, a rich young entrepreneur wants to drive away the kindly old man (Peter Cushing) across the street, as he believes his presence lowers property values. The young man then proceeds to use his power and influence to wreck the old timer’s life, culminating in a slew of fake Valentine’s Day cards which drive the poor guy to suicide. However, now that his life has ended, the kindly old man proves not to be as kindly as he used to be.
I found this story hardest to watch since Cushing plays such a sweet and sympathetic character you just can’t stand to see so many horrible things happen to him. It’s one of his more offbeat roles, too, as he doesn’t play the dapper, stiff-upper-lip character most common throughout his career. Probably the goriest segment of the film; the blood and guts make up for the predictable ending just fine. Cushing’s unique face made for a really good-looking zombie.
In “Wish you Were Here”, a ruined businessman and his wife are panicking over the impending repossession of their wealth when they come across a statue capable of granting three wishes. Their each wish only succeeds in compounding their suffering, as each request is warped in terrible ways.
This may have been my least favorite story in the film for a couple of reasons (least of which being that it’s just another take on “The Monkey’s Paw” and that had been done to death even by the 1970s).
Firstly, all the lost souls delivering their tales are shown to be terribly evil people, save for the man in this one, who really isn’t that bad a guy. Secondly, the twist ending for this story makes no sense under the context of the twist ending provided at the end of the wrap-around. To be fair, it isn’t an awful story. I mean, you get to see Death riding a motorcycle! How sweet is that? Oddly, he can be seen wearing a helmet. What’s Death afraid of, exactly?
In the final story, “Blind Alley”, a penny-pinching army Major takes charge of a home for the blind and quickly begins misappropriating funds for his own selfish desires. This eventually leads to the death of one of the residents, causing them to enact a horrible revenge on him. Trapping the Major in the basement, they force him through a torturous maze with a gruesome prize waiting at the finish line.
While I enjoyed the HBO adaptation of “All Through the House” over this one, I found the 1972 adaptation of “Blind Alley” to be much more enjoyable than HBO’s. You of course have to look past the obvious problem: There’s no way that a group of blind people, even with their other four senses enhanced, could possibly build something as technically sound as the maze which appears at the climax. But if you can suspend your disbelief that much, you should enjoy the seriously sweet pay off.
Overall, Tales from the Crypt is a great look at the classic EC franchise before the HBO series came along to give it a facelift. Sir Ralph Richardson’s rendition of the Crypt Keeper is much closer to his appearance in the comic as a raggedy old ghoul in a tattered robe. Sure, it may not be as memorable as John Kassir’s cackling corpse, but its endearing in its own way.
Tales from the Crypt was met with a superb sequel a year later, appropriately titled The Vault of Horror. A shame they never made a Haunt of Fear film to complete the triumvirate of EC horror titles, but I’ll get over it.